HP has been making major waves through its entrance into the 3D printing market, between laying off thousands of employees in 2015, unveiling its Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing system last year, and closing a factory in Ireland earlier this month to redirect company funds to 3D printing. With the first Multi Jet Fusion production units only recently shipped, it’s already causing some market disruption. We’ve seen HP’s powerful 3D printing technology around the world, from Barcelona to Chicago to Frankfurt to, most recently, Los Angeles.
Both the HP Jet Fusion 3D 3200 and the HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200 are designed with features including fast printing speeds, thermal control on a voxel-by-voxel basis, material reusability, and an open materials platform. Some of the HP engineers who work on building the company’s 2D printers wondered if there was a way to harness the 3D printing technology of the Multi Jet Fusion system, to optimize the design and reduce costs for its large-format inkjet printers. In the words of Barney Stinson, challenge accepted!
HP’s industrial inkjet printers, like the HP Latex 1500, are huge devices, described as workhorses in the industry. They are built with thousands of moving parts, and are designed to print hundreds of square feet of material for vehicle wraps, banners, and signs for corporate clients and others with high print volumes every day. While they’re designed for the environment of a print shop, they are also highly specialized, resulting in fewer models being produced. HP engineers wanted to see if they could explore different ways to make parts for this equipment, and ultimately reduce the cost of the supply chain and the need for inventory, by optimizing the design process through 3D printing for certain pieces of equipment. Typical manufacturing methods can be pretty expensive for short-run production.
“When designing and manufacturing large-format printers, we’d usually use injection molding and machining for parts,” said Alejandro Bonillo, HP Production Printing Mechanical Engineer. “At low volumes, these traditional techniques might not be worthwhile. We wanted to reduce the cost while also improving the speed and flexibility of our design process.”
It can also be pretty expensive to prototype and make the improved parts, so the engineers were looking for a more reliable and low-cost way to produce the parts. Enter 3D printing… While the engineers were looking at some of the large-format 2D inkjet printer parts they wanted to work with, they realized that some of the parts could actually be made in-house through HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing, which would definitely lower production and supply chain expenses. One of the parts they thought could be produced through 3D printing is a SOL actuator support. The bracket holds and positions a sensor, which is responsible for calibrating the color quality of an inkjet print.
Isabel Sanz, HP 3D Applications Engineer, said, “With HP 3D printing, we saw an immediate opportunity to redesign this crucial part in the most efficient way possible.”
3D printing would give them more freedom in designing the SOL actuator support – they could make it more lightweight, by improving upon the design’s geometry. The engineers were also able to quickly create different versions of the part using CAD software, print it, and test the prototypes in the physical environment, without sacrificing the overall quality of the part. But, while the parts enjoyed successful tests, would they be able to stand up in a commercial environment?The engineers first conducted a thorough cost analysis, based on the number of parts they usually needed to make HP’s 2D printers. Once they realized that the setup costs would be too high to consider injection molding, they thought about making the parts out of aluminum, which would cost $22 per part. However, it would cost less than $6 to create the same part using HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology: a reduction of 73%. The engineering-grade thermoplastic material used to 3D print the part was just 44 grams, 88% less than the machined version of 355 grams. 3D printing additionally made it possible for them to remove material, which also helped in making the parts more lightweight; this in turn can lower production costs throughout the entire supply chain.
The HP engineers were in fact able to use 3D printing technology to redesign these crucial inkjet printer parts, and the resulting parts were just as reliable as the old ones, but lighter weight and lower cost. In addition, the Jet Fusion 3D printers enabled the engineers to make parts one day that would perform the same as ones made before or after: the 3D printing solution gave the parts a consistent fit and finish each time, and ensured that “tight tolerances could be met.” This way, the engineers no longer need to keep new and replacement parts for inventory at the factory, or out in the field, as they can now manufacture them on demand.
Sanz said, “With 3D printing we were able to optimize a design that required less material, lowering our design and production costs. HP’s Multi Jet Fusion allowed to create functional parts faster. Once the new design was approved, we went immediately into production, using the same file, the same equipment and the same material as we used in prototyping.”
HP’s footprint, and the chance of obsolescence, are able to be reduced through 3D printing, as digitized parts don’t need to be stored, and on-demand printed parts not only reduce manufacturing and servicing costs for its large-format inkjet printers, but also reduce waste. The HP engineers intend to investigate what other areas of business can be improved through the use of its Jet Fusion 3D printers.